Wed. May 29th, 2024

Fingers Crossed for Senate Backing as TikTok Ban Opponents Hold Their Breath

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May21,2024

Opponents of legislation that could ban TikTok in the United States are pinning their hopes on the Senate as the House readies to send a major foreign aid package to the upper chamber.

The legislation would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the popular app or be banned in the U.S., and it is part of a foreign aid bill the House is expected to pass in a Saturday vote.

The House has already approved similar legislation, but the new language differs from the previous measure in an important way.

It would extend the timeline for ByteDance to sell TikTok from 6 months to roughly a year, a change that moved Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to support the bill. 

The context of the legislation is also important. The House is passing the foreign aid package as a four-point bill that will then be sent to the Senate as one measure. It will include long-sought aid to Ukraine and Israel, and there may be pressure on senators not to divide up the package.

President Biden has already signaled his support for the overall measure and the TikTok provisions.

Despite those negative signs, TikTok, its impassioned users and some lawmakers appear ready to continue their crusade against the ban. 

“I think if anything people are just starting to activate,” TikTok user and small business owner Nadya Okamoto told The Hill Friday.

Okamoto is the co-founder of period care brand August and a TikTok creator with 4.1 million followers. She led an open letter signed by other TikTok creators addressed to Biden earlier this week urging him to oppose the legislation.

Okamoto believes the pressure campaign is still growing and that people are still reacting to how swiftly the new threat to the social media platform came into being.

After the new legislation was put out this week, there was a sense of “‘Oh, shit, we have to take this seriously and we need to activate” within the TikTok community, she said.  

TikTok had been aggressively advertising against the ban after the House passed legislation earlier this year, doubling its ad spending to $4.5 million at the end of March, according to AdImpact data reported by CNBC. More than $2.5 million of that has gone to television ads, including one entitled “Built A Life On TikTok” that features a nun, a teacher, a farmer and other users lamenting the potential loss of the app.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.), an ardent supporter of the ban, urged the House on Thursday to pass the updated TikTok bill.

“For years, I’ve been raising the alarm about the powerful national security threat posed by TikTok, and I strongly support their divestiture from a company legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner said. 

Proponents say a ban is necessary to prevent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from accessing American user data, which they worry could be used to spy on users or manipulate their interests. 

TikTok has pushed back strongly on allegations that the app poses a national security threat and bashed House leaders for adding it into the border aid package. 

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill.

The move to add the bill to the broader aid package is also adding fuel to opponents’ criticism of the measure. 

“I think a lot of the sentiment that I feel, and a lot of the creators that I’ve spoken to, is that it just feels really sneaky and a bit deceptive, packaging these two very unrelated things,” Okamoto said. 

“It doesn’t do well to build trust in the system and into our representatives,” she said. 

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) called it a “backroom deal” and said he would not vote for the bill in a video posted to TikTok. 

“They’re attaching a ban on TikTok to the foreign aid bill for aid to Ukraine. This makes no sense and I will vote no. Unfortunately, the bill looks like it will pass the House and Senate and President Biden will sign it. This is what people hate about politics. We need to stand up and oppose the ban on TikTok,” he said. 

Opponents of the ban argue lawmakers have not provided evidence that China’s government is weaponizing the app and that the bill infringes on the right to free speech. 

“Longstanding Supreme Court precedent protects Americans’ First Amendment right to access information, ideas, and media from abroad. By banning TikTok, the bill would infringe on this right, and with no real pay-off. China and other foreign adversaries could still purchase Americans’ sensitive data from data brokers on the open market. And they could still engage in disinformation campaigns using American-owned platforms,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, in a statement. 

Jenna Leventoff, ACLU’s senior policy counsel for the First Amendment, said the extended time frame for the sale doesn’t significantly change the concerns about the bill, either. 

The updated text extends the time period from 180 days to 270 days to sell TikTok, along with a 90-day extension that could be granted by the president. 

“Given the average length to sell a company is over a year, the new, longer timeline for a forced sale still doesn’t guarantee enough time to find a buyer for such a large company, making a ban just as likely as with the last bill. Congress cannot take away the rights of over 170 million Americans who use TikTok to express themselves, engage in political advocacy, and access information from around the world,” Leventoff said in a statement. 

Opponents say the battle will likely end up in court, just like prior attempts under the Trump administration and in states to ban TikTok that have been blocked. 

Some critical of the bill took issue with just picking on TikTok. While the bill names TikTok and ByteDance specifically, it would grant the president authority to designate other apps under control of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as national security threats. 

“I have real concerns about picking out one company and saying, there are problems with their scraping up all of our private data and using it however they want, and letting other companies continue to engage in very similar behavior,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday. 

“I understand that we have particular concerns about China, but simply changing corporate ownership does not protect us from a foreign government intent on using social media to do harm to our country,” she said. 

Still, some Democratic senators signaled they were willing, like Cantwell, to consider backing the legislation.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he has “some real concerns” about the bill but is “encouraged by the extended timeline” for the sale and is “considering supporting it.” 

Mychael Schnell contributed.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Fingers Crossed for Senate Backing as TikTok Ban Opponents Hold Their Breath”
  1. As a small business owner and TikTok user myself, I am hopeful that the Senate will back the movement against the ban. It’s crucial for ByteDance to have sufficient time to sell TikTok, and I believe extending the timeline is a step in the right direction. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a positive outcome!

  2. I believe it’s crucial for the Senate to give their approval in order to prevent the ban on TikTok. The extended timeline for ByteDance to sell TikTok is a positive change that could make a difference. Let’s hope the Senate backs this bill to support the continuation of the app in the U.S.

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